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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When we wish we had never been born


Jeremy Paxman: Parkinson's 'makes you wish you hadn't been born'


This headline in this morning’s BBC news website caught my eye, not least because it was uttered on the steps of 10 Downing Street by my college contemporary, Jeremy Paxman.


Not that I knew Pax very well – in fact, we only  overlapped one year.  However, I do recall his trade-mark dogged persistence as he successfully lead a revolt against a change in the college’s accommodation policy.  I also recall his light-coloured raincoat, which he seemed to wear all the time. 


Sadly Pax was diagnosed three years ago with Parkinson’s disease, which apparently is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world.  Currently there is no cure. 


Given his quote, it must be tough for him, this veteran news warrior.  However, I wonder if he realised that he was quoting from the Bible, even from the book of Job. “I wish I had never been born. Or I wish I had been carried straight from birth to the grave!” (Job 10:19).


Here is Job pouring out his heart to God.  We the reader knows, as he does not, that God is testing his faith.  Does he believe in God simply for what he can get out of it, no more than an expression of mere self-interest? So in the prologue  Satan taunts God:  “You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.”


So Job’s life enters a terrible downward spiral.  And in terrible pain he rails against God.  He relentlessly holds God responsible for his suffering, demanding to know WHY? Here he shows a similar persistence to Paxman when he bombarded Michael Howard, the then Home secretary, the same question no less than 12 times. 


And what is more, Job speaks with what comes across as impertinence: “If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion, and again display your awesome power against me.” (Job 10:16)   For Job to address a contemporary Potentate would invite certain death. 


But amazingly, God does not retaliate, blast him with a lightning bolt or vaporise him in a flash.  “The Judge of all the earth” simply listens to Job’s outpourings for another 28 chapters before giving his considered response: “Now stand up straight and answer the questions I ask you.” (Job 38:3).


And for two whole chapters we are treated to the most sublime poetry as God celebrates his wonderful creation:

“Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom

    and spread its wings toward the south?

Does the eagle soar at your command

    and build its nest on high?

It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;

    a rocky crag is its stronghold.

From there it looks for food;

    its eyes detect it from afar.”

(Job 39:28-30)


Such is God’s love, that we can be completely open with him – to tell him as it is.  We can actually share with our Creator how we really are feeling– no need for a respectable front.  Furthermore as disciples of Jesus we can address him as Abba.


Of course, God is the one  “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden.” He knows us through-and-through. Even so he loves and values us. 


Such honesty is for our benefit, not his.  As Nicky Gumbel teaches “God wants you to be honest with him. He likes candour. He wants to hear what is on your heart today.”


Talking about candour, this morning in my daily Bible reading I have been reading Psalm 88, not a Psalm to read if you are depressed.  Or is it? 


The very first line gives us a glimmer of hope: “Lord, you are the God who saves me.”  Then it’s downhill all the way, totally bleak, concluding with the most depressing ending ever:  “You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.” (v18). 


Unusually for a Psalm there is no mention of human enemies, no one else is to blame for the Psalmist’s terrible suffering.  God himself is responsible and so, so-to-speak, he gets an earful. “Your wrath lies heavily on me;  you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.” (v7)


No polite conversation here, for all support is gone: “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.” (v8)


You wonder what the compilers of Temple Praise were thinking when in the 5th century BC  they were putting together a hymn book for the rebuilt Jerusalem temple, known to us as the book of Psalms.  What’s Psalm 88 doing there?  Were they tempted to add another line of God promising to bless sooner or later or did they simply like the tune? 


As this morning’s commentator concludes:  “Some people find the bleakness and sense of total abandonment in this psalm disturbing, even depressing.  Others find it unexpectedly encouraging, that such a sense of total abandonment does not make prayer impossible, but instead prompts more urgent, insistent prayer.”


When life throws everything at us, when we would decry our very existence on this planet, we may choose to make this Psalm our own, and in doing so find our true security, even in Christ who has suffered with us and for us. 


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